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Links of Interest – October 8

Facebook Unwraps a Gift Service

Facebook GiftsFacebook, apparently looking to join the e-commerce fray, is preparing a new service called “Facebook Gifts” that will encourage users to buy and send presents.

Initial items include gifts such as gift cards and cupcakes, but Facebook said it will add more options, according to The LA Times.

Users can send gifts from birthday reminders or when visiting a friend’s timeline.

Friends can enter their shipping information and swap gifts for different sizes, flavors or styles before the gift ships, according to Facebook.

Payments can be made as soon as users send the gift or they can choose to pay later. Their friends, meanwhile, can provide their address once they choose to accept the gift and it “will show up on their doorstep a few days late,” according to a news release from Facebook.

Ever conscious of privacy and security concerns, when you pay for a Facebook Gift, Facebook stores your credit card for future use. However, if you don’t want to have your credit card information stored on your account, you can remove it after making a purchase.

Calif. Gov. Jerry Brown Signs Self-Driving Cars Bill

It seems California drivers may soon be able to catch a nap, finish writing that screenplay or do just about any activity one isn’t supposed to do while driving an automobile.

A bill sponsored by State Senator Alex Padilla will establish safety and performance regulations to test and operate autonomous vehicles on California highways, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

“Today we’re looking at science fiction becoming tomorrow’s reality — the self-driving car,” Governor Jerry Brown said. “Anyone who gets inside a car and finds out the car is driving will be a little skittish, but they’ll get over it.”

Google currently has a fleet of 12 computer-controlled vehicles that has logged more than 300,000 miles of self-driving without an accident, according to Google.

“I think the self-driving car can really dramatically improve the quality of life for everyone,” Google co-founder Sergey Brin said.

Newly Found Comet Could Look Spectacular in 2013

Who says you need a darkened sky to witness a breathtaking celestial phenomenon?

A newly discovered comet, first sighted by Russian astronomers, could put on an impressive celestial display next year. The comet will be bright enough to be seen in the daytime sky, according to Space.com.

The object, named Comet ISON, was announced Sept. 24 by Russians Vitali Nevski and Artyom Novichonok. The new comet is officially known as C/2012 S1.

Comet ISON was 625 million miles from Earth and 584 million miles from the sun when it was first sighted. The comet is located in the dim constellation of Cancer. According to Space.com, it was shining at magnitude 18.8 on the reverse scale used by astronomers to measure the brightness of sky objects (the lower the number, the brighter the object). The comet is currently about 100,000 times fainter than the dimmest star that can be seen with the unaided eye.

Yet at its closest point to the sun, which is due Nov. 28, 2013, the comet has the potential to become a dazzling object, perhaps bright enough to be visible for a short time in broad daylight.

 

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Links of Interest – October 1

Samsung Confirms Galaxy Note II for All Major U.S. Carriers

Samsung has confirmed that the much-anticipated Galaxy Note II smartphone will be available on Verizon Wireless, Sprint, AT&T, T-Mobile, and U.S. Cellular in the U.S. by the middle of November.

Smartphone aficionados know the current Galaxy Note smartphone for its 5.3-inch display. Not be be outdone, the new one is even larger, and features a 5.5-inch HD Super AMOLED touch screen with a 16:9 aspect ratio, according to PCMag.com.

The Galaxy Note II will also come with a 1.6-GHz, quad-core Samsung Exynos processor that’s optimized for LTE, plus 2GB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage. Each Galaxy Note II has a microSD card slot that allows for expandable storage of up to 64GB.

The Galaxy Note II will arrive on each carrier preloaded with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, making it the first Samsung smartphone to run Google’s most advanced version of Android out of the gate.

Photos, Videos Bigger in Twitter Redesign

Mozy on TwitterA redesign of Twitter’s Website and mobile apps could generate new revenue streams by placing greater emphasis on photos and videos.

In other words, a picture is now worth 140 characters, writes the San Francisco Chronicle’s Benny Evangelista.

Twitter’s CEO, Dick Costolo, appearing on NBC’s “Today” show, announced that the  company has completely overhauled its iPad app, updated its website and revamped its iPhone and Android apps to make visual elements such as photos and videos more prominent.

Costolo told the show hosts — including Ryan Seacrest and his nearly 8 million Twitter followers — that the microblogging service was responding to Twitter users who wanted better ways to express themselves.

“What we’ve heard over and over again from our users is they want to bring more of their personality to their profile pages,” he said.

But the redesign also signals new advertising opportunities for Twitter, which has reported success with ad products like its text-based Promoted Tweets. Could there be a Promoted Photos in the works?

Snow on Mars: NASA spacecraft spots ‘dry ice’ snowflakes

A spacecraft orbiting Mars has detected carbon dioxide snow falling on the Red Planet, making Mars the only body in the solar system known to host this weird weather phenomenon, according to Space.com.

The snow on Mars fell from clouds around the planet’s south pole during the Martian winter spanning 2006 and 2007, with scientists discovering it only after sifting through observations by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). The Martian south pole hosts a frozen carbon dioxide — or “dry ice” — cap year-round, and the new discovery may help explain how it formed and persists, researchers said.

“These are the first definitive detections of carbon-dioxide snow clouds,” lead author Paul Hayne, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., said in a statement. “We firmly establish the clouds are composed of carbon dioxide — flakes of Martian air — and they are thick enough to result in snowfall accumulation at the surface.”

 

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Cloud Links of Interest – September 17

Why the iPhone 5 Launch Will Be the ‘Biggest Upgrade in Consumer Electronics History’

Why the iPhone 5 Launch Will Be the 'Biggest Upgrade in Consumer Electronics History'The iPhone 5 launch isn’t just going to be big, according to Topeka Capital analyst Brian White, it’s going to be the “biggest upgrade in consumer electronics history.”

White lists a number of reasons why he thinks the iPhone 5 will be a big hit — bigger screen, LTE capability, faster processor, iOS 6 — but in the analysis he misses the wood for the trees, according to an article on ZDNet.com.

He fails to mention that the vast majority of Apple customers don’t care about the hardware specifications at all. It’s going to be big because it will be the first major redesign of the iPhone since the iPhone 4 was released back in June 2010, ZDNet’s Adrian Kingsley-Hughes writes.

“Consumers like a redesign because it means that their new handset doesn’t look like everybody else’s handset,” writes Kingsley-Hughes. “To people who like to pore through endless specification sheets and hardware teardowns, it seems odd that people will base their purchasing decision on something as simple as a product looking different, but they will.”

New App MindMeld Heralds the Era of Anticipatory Computing

Shouldn’t computers know what you need without you having to tell them? A new app from Expect Minds and entrepreneur Tim Tuttle called Mindmeld hopes to think ahead and help deal with more and more data, according to an article on GigaOm.com.

MindMeld is an iPad app that uses Facebook’s open graph and identity to help create quick audio or video conferences. Add a few people and start talking. But here is where things get interesting: As you speak (or other participants speak), the app listens and starts surfacing information pertaining to what you are talking about, according to GigaOm.

Om Malik writes ”For instance, if you are talking about an upcoming meeting with, say, someone like [Malik], then in near realtime, it would show you my Wikipedia page, surface my recent blog posts, show GigaOM location on a map, and other such information. And as fast as the topic shifts, the system brings up relevant information for that new topic. Sometime in the future, the company will be able to access data from your Dropbox or Google Docs account and when it does, Cisco’s WebEx division should reach for a proverbial bottle of migraine medicine.”

Tim Tuttle started Expect Labs, the company behind the app, two years ago to develop a platform that would “continuously pay attention to what happens in your life and pick up ambient information and then start to surface relevant information.”

Tuttle believes computing habits are evolving from desktop-bound to completely mobile, essentially changing usage behavior for users everywhere.

Cloud Computing Revs Up the Auto Industry

Cloud computing has already changed several industries and the next stop looks like the auto industry and the driving experience as we know it, according an an article on CloudTweaks.com.

Three main areas of the automobile industry could experience the greatest impact of cloud computing: partnerships and integration, the manufacturer-dealer-customer chain and auto infotainment.

 

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Links of Interest – September 3

New iPhone Not Expected to Slow Android Growth

Despite the highly anticipated release of Apple’s iPhone 5, analysts expect Google’s Android mobile operating system to continue to dominate the smartphone market.

Android already leads the market, accounting for approximately 60 percent of all smartphone shipments in the first half of 2012, according to an article on PCMag.com. But even with the forthcoming launch of the next-generation iPhone, Android market share is expected to grow to 70 percent of the global market in the second half of the year, Digitimes Research senior analyst Luke Lin estimated.

Contributing to its growth, several major Android handset vendors like Samsung, Huawei, and ZTE are starting to increase shipments, while second-tier and regional vendors are “aggressively” launching new entry-level Android handsets in China, Lin said.

See Every Hurricane of the Last 150 years on One Map

HurricanesWith hurricane season upon us, one mapmaker offered up an informative and visually impressive look at hurricanes that have struck over the last century and a half.

If it looks a little odd at first, it’s because this hurricane map offers a unique perspective of the Earth; Antarctica is smack in the middle, and the rest of the planet unfurls around it like the petals of a tulip, according to an article on msnbc.com.

The effect is not only informative — more than 150 years of hurricane data show that certain regions are consistently in the storms’ crosshairs — but also visually arresting.

Mapmaker John Nelson, the user experience and mapping manager for IDV Solutions, a data visualization company, said that this oddball point of view was the best way to tell the story of the data.

“When I put it onto a rectangular map it was neat looking, but a little bit disappointing,” Nelson told OurAmazingPlanet. But the unorthodox, bottom-up perspective allowed the curving paths the storms make across the world’s oceans to shine, he said.

Sick on the Road? Try the Grocery Store

If you’re planning one more trip before the end of summer, it might be a smart idea to familiarize yourself with some ways to cope with ailments while in a foreign land.

Some physicians, pharmacists and scientists have suggested grocery items available almost anywhere that can help cure several ailments, according to a recent article in The New York Times.

“You don’t need to pack a medicine chest on holiday,” said Dave Harcombe, a pharmacist in Doncaster, England. “I rely on traditional medicine to pay my mortgage,” he added. “But in certain cases, home remedies are as good as drugs. There’s a place in the world for both of them.”

Harcombe used his travel experience and that of his customers to create a list of items that he posted on silvertraveladvisor.com. Debbie Marshall, editor of the site, said the response has been enthusiastic. “It is well worth knowing some of the healing properties of common foods when traveling,” she said, noting that acquiring and using conventional medicines in certain countries can be complicated. “Pharmaceutical labels may be written in an unfamiliar language, quantities can be ambiguous and quite often nature has a remedy that will bridge the gap until more conventional aid can be found.”

Some of these over-the-counter remedies help combat upset stomachs, bug bites, poison ivy and what to do when you’re having trouble with your contact lenses.

Super Mario Bros. ‘Demake’ Boasts Atari 2600 Graphics

Call it an artistic step forward while relying on graphics from the early ’80s.

An old-school style is making a comeback, and “demakes” are apparently all the rage.

“Demakes” adapt modern games to the standards of older platforms, sometimes even programming them for dead hardware, such as the Atari system.

Atari Age forum member Sprybug spent his free time demaking Super Mario Bros. as an actual Atari 2600 game, according to an article on Dvice.com.

If you thought Super Mario Bros. looked bad on the Nintendo Entertainment System, wait until you see what it would have looked like on the Atari 2600. In its current demo form, the graphics are fairly decent for an Atari 2600 game, although Sprybug admits there are some problems with collision detection.

So far, Sprybug’s Super Mario Bros. demake has 16 levels (World 1-1 to 4-4) stuffed into a compact 32k file.

 

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